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Advocates to GOP Senator Vitter: ‘Forcing People to Show ID to Use Food Stamps Would Hurt the Poor’

Last Wednesday, Louisiana Senator David Vitter proposed a new measure to stop food stamp fraud. His proposed bill, the Food Stamp Fraud Prevention and Accountability Act would require all food stamp (SNAP) recipients to show a valid photo ID every time they purchase food using their EBT cards.

“Using a photo ID is standard in many day-to-day transactions, and most of those are not exclusively paid for by the taxpayer dollars,” Vitter said via press release.

He added that his bill would cut back on user fraud and food stamp costs.

“Food Stamps have more than doubled in cost since 2008 and continue to grow in an unsustainable way, and the events in Louisiana unfortunately highlight the fraud surrounding the taxpayer- funded program,” he pointed out. “My bill will restore some accountability to the program so it’s not ruined for people who use it appropriately.”

In truth, food stamp fraud is rare these days and well over 96 percent of food stamp users, many of them families with children and the elderly use the program as it was intended, to buy food to keep their families from going hungry.  Among those that do defraud the system, the most common type of fraud involves lying on their applications or engaging in shady deals with merchants to turn their food stamps into cash, often for cents on the dollar.

Further, the fraud Vitter alluded to as the reason for the new law was actually the result of a computer glitch that temporarily gave EBT users unlimited balances on their card. Showing IDs would not stop this type of fraud, according to Deborah Weinstein, executive director of Coalition for Human Needs.

“If Senator Vitter wants to solve the problem of serious flaws in computer systems, he should seek to hold the contractors paid by the state responsible and require oversight to prevent further failures,” Weinstein said, stressing that the Senator’s plan fails to meet the intended mark.

She added that while Vitter’s plan will not stop food stamp abuses, but it will will stop those trying to feed their families from accessing the food they need.

“Senator Vitter’s proposal will be especially tough on elderly and poor people who do not have the documents needed to get their photo ID, and who will struggle even to get to the necessary offices.  They will wind up going without food,” she explained.

Vitter’s new plan, much like the proposed voter ID laws also aimed at stopping fraud, would also disproportionately impact minorities and the elderly.  According to a study conducted by the Brennan Center of voting age adults, African-Americans and the elderly are significantly more likely to lack a photo ID, especially if they are also poor, making them the most likely to suffer if IDs become a requirement every time they use food stamps to buy food.

Photo Credit: Wonderlane via Creative Commons

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Tamar is a New York based freelance writer and photographer whose work has appeared in over 15 publications. You can catch her work regularly on Issue Hawk, Latest, Jspace, and MediaGlobal.